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Does bullying cause emotional problems? A prospective study of young teenagers

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7311.480 (Published 01 September 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:480
  1. Lyndal Bond, head, research unit (bond{at}cryptic.rch.unimelb.edu.au)a,
  2. John B Carlin, directorb,
  3. Lyndal Thomas, PhD scholarb,
  4. Kerryn Rubin, medical studenta,
  5. George Patton, directora
  1. a Centre for Adolescent Health, Royal Children's Hospital, Parkville 3052, Victoria, Australia
  2. b Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit, Murdoch Children's Research Institute and University of Melbourne Department of Paediatrics, Royal Children's Hospital
  1. Correspondence to: L Bond
  • Accepted 21 May 2001

Abstract

Objectives: To establish the relation between recurrent peer victimisation and onset of self reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in the early teen years.

Design: Cohort study over two years.

Setting: Secondary schools in Victoria, Australia.

Participants: 2680 students surveyed twice in year 8 (aged 13 years) and once in year 9.

Main outcome measures: Self reported symptoms of anxiety or depression were assessed by using the computerised version of the revised clinical interview schedule. Incident cases were students scoring ≥12 in year 9 but not previously. Prior victimisation was defined as having been bullied at either or both survey times in year 8.

Results: Prevalence of victimisation at the second survey point in year 8 was 51% (95% confidence interval 49% to 54%), and prevalence of self reported symptoms of anxiety or depression was 18% (16% to 20%). The incidence of self reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in year 9 (7%) was significantly associated with victimisation reported either once (odds ratio 1.94, 1.1 to 3.3) or twice (2.30, 1.2 to 4.3) in year 8. After adjustment for availability of social relations and for sociodemographic factors, recurrent victimisation remained predictive of self reported symptoms of anxiety or depression for girls (2.60, 1.2 to 5.5) but not for boys (1.36, 0.6 to 3.0). Newly reported victimisation in year 9 was not significantly associated with prior self report of symptoms of anxiety or depression (1.48, 0.4 to 6.0).

Conclusion: A history of victimisation and poor social relationships predicts the onset of emotional problems in adolescents. Previous recurrent emotional problems are not significantly related to future victimisation. These findings have implications for how seriously the occurrence of victimisation is treated and for the focus of interventions aimed at addressing mental health issues in adolescents.

What is already known on this topic

What is already known on this topic Being bullied is a common experience for many young people

Victimisation is related to depression and, to a lesser extent, anxiety, loneliness, and general self esteem

Debate remains as to whether victimisation precedes the onset of emotional problems or whether young people with emotional problems “invite” victimisation

What this study adds

What this study adds A history of victimisation predicts the onset of anxiety or depression, especially in adolescent girls

Previous recurrent emotional problems are not significantly related to future victimisation

Reduction in bullying in schools could have a substantial impact on the emotional wellbeing of young people

Footnotes

  • Funding The Gatehouse Project is supported by grants from the Queen's Trust for Young Australians, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, National Health and Medical Research Council, and Department of Human Services.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Embedded Image Questionnaires used in the study are on the BMJ's website

  • Accepted 21 May 2001
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